I Grew Up With the Idea of "Pelo Malo," and This Is How I Came to Love My Curls

"Curly hair is beautiful.” This sentiment may seem ordinary to some, but to Julissa Prado, it is nothing short of the revolutionary. The four simple words are the driving crux of her business, Rizos Curls, which is a community-oriented curly hair product line that celebrates all curl types. The self-funded, family-owned line launched in 2017 and is now carried in a whopping 460 Target stores nationwide. Prado’s mission is straightforward: to create products that will allow her customers to fully love their curls, which is something she struggled with growing up. 


(Image credit: @julissa_prado)

As a young girl, Prado recalls viewing her curly hair texture as a "pain point,” all too aware of the term "pelo malo,” which means bad hair in Spanish and refers to curly, textured, and kinky hair. In the quest for "pelo lacio," meaning straight, smooth, and ideal hair, Prado once even tried to flatten her curls with a clothes iron. After battling her hair for years, she set out to create the perfect products so curly-haired women like herself could feel empowered to embrace their texture. Here, Prado shares how her experiences growing up shaped her purpose-driven business today, what it means to be a successful Latinx entrepreneur, and, of course, some of her famous curlcare tips. 


(Image credit: @julissa_prado)

What was your relationship to your curls growing up? How did the concept of pelo malo factor into that? 

 Growing up, my curls were a pain point for sure, and the thought of pelo malo was a normalized term because culturally, having curly hair was "ugly,” so it did make me want to have straight hair. In school, I was called "puffball,” "frizz puff,” and other things, so it further drove the illusion that straight hair is pretty hair. I remember when I was around 5 years old, I went to the hair salon with my mom for my first haircut, back when they had hairstyles you’d pick from a salon book. The stylist asked me to "go through this book and tell me what haircut you want,” mostly to keep me distracted. I remember finding a picture of a girl with super-long, straight blonde hair, and I excitedly ran to the hairstylist and told her, "I want my hair just like her!” Everyone looked at me with my huge, gravity-defying curly hair at the time and started laughing. That moment has always played such a critical moment because all I wanted was straight hair after that. 



(Image credit: @julissa_prado)

What inspired you to start Rizos Curls?

The inspiration to create Rizos Curls was my own personal curl journey to learn how to love my natural curl texture. Because no product on the market gave me the definition I needed for my own curls, I told myself that one day I would create the very best product for curly-haired girls like me. I spent years searching for the perfect formula. I wanted a product made with quality ingredients that could celebrate all curl types, from my tia’s coily strands to my sister’s loose waves. But what was crazy was that it wasn’t just my own journey and that of my family, but in passing, I’d meet so many curly women in the bathroom, in the elevator, in dorm rooms, and they’d tell me, "I love your hair.” They’d ask me, "How do you get your hair like that?” I’d tell them I have my own concoction. I made so many friends because I’d say, "Okay, I’ll come over and do your hair.” I’d do their hair, teach them my process, and they’d start wearing their hair naturally. In 2017, after I was able to professionally make my formula, I launched Rizos Curls, and all those women became my first customers.



(Image credit: @rizoscurls)

What does it mean to you to be in Target? 

 Seeing Rizos Curls, a self-funded, independent family business, at Target feels great and completely surreal. We launched in January 2020 in 120 stores, and by July 2020, we expanded to more than 400 stores because our customers kept demanding more and more. It feels like all of my family’s hard work is being paid off—that the idea that a brand can lead as a purpose-, mission-, and passion-focused business is worthwhile. Since our launch, I have prioritized the brand’s three Cs: curls, community, and culture. And many told us it’s not possible to make money based off of such strong values. Yet, it's these core values that drive our business. 

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Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?

For anyone who wants to start a business, pursue your passion! Also know you will never have all the answers, but you can reach out to the resources around you and to your community for guidance, and they will help propel you forward. Start small if you need to and grow from there. I saved for over five years before launching Rizos Curls and launched 100% self-funded and am still independent. You don’t need a round of venture capital to get started and excel in your space.

What are your washday curl tips? 

My favorite washday curl tip is the 30/60/90 method. I have a tutorial video that helps demonstrate it, but this method is great for women and men who are still learning how much product to put in their hair and want to ensure they get their desired results. The idea is that, during the styling process, you add product to your hair little by little as it dries to ensure you don’t add too much product. Because once you do, there’s no going back, and your curls will be weighed down. You start out by adding as little Refresh & Detangle Spray ($20) and Curl Defining Cream ($22) as possible, staying away from your roots. Then, you begin to blow-dry with a diffuser. At 30% dry, you stop to analyze your results and only add more product to any areas that may need it. If the area needs more moisture, you add Refresh & Detangle Spray. If it needs definition, you add Curl Cream. You then continue to dry your hair. At 60%, you, again, stop, analyze, and only add product if needed, then again at 90% dry. I do this method in the beginning when I’m still learning how much I need to use because you definitely don’t want to add too much product.


(Image credit: @rizoscurls)

 When you do Rizos Transformations, what are the tweaks you make to their routines that make the biggest difference?

For a Rizos Transformation, the most important tweak someone can make that makes the biggest difference is getting a curl cut. For anyone that truly wants to rock their natural curls regularly, it’s important to go to a stylist that understands how to cut curly hair. How you cut straight hair is very different than how you cut curly hair. Straight hair is cut wet, and curly hair is cut dry. The right curly cut and the right products for your hair texture and porosity are what transform a person’s look and the health of their hair.


(Image credit: @rizoscurls)

What is a common mistake you see with curlcare? 

The most common mistake I see people make when it comes to caring for their curls is having what our partner curl stylist Dazy Lyn calls "straight hair tendencies.” Doing certain routines with your hair as if you’re handling it to be straight versus curly can hurt in optimizing curl pattern and volume. For example, you shouldn’t brush your hair down straight and part your hair while it’s wet if you want volume. For curls, you want your hair to take its natural form by not parting it and forcing it to hang tight close to your head. It’s easier when you visually see what we mean, so check out our Straight Hair Tendencies video. We guarantee if you undo any straight hair tendencies with curly hair, you will start achieving more defined, voluminous curls.

What has your community of customers taught you?

My community of customers, who I call Rizos Reinas and Rizos Reyes, have taught me so, so much. Rizos Curls is a community of women and men that own the beauty of their curls, coils, and waves and honor the beautiful cultures that they come from. I’m constantly being inspired by their stories and have built real friendships with so many. Plus, our Rizos Reinas and Reyes are very vocal about what they want next, product wise. They are the reason I created the Refresh and Detangle Spray, which we launched two years ago. All our innovation now is customer-led, they call the shots, we just execute.


(Image credit: @moreyna_m)

Anything else you'd like to add? 

Don’t forget to shop and support a self-funded, independent Latinx family–owned business! You can visit us at www.RizosCurls.com or on social at @RizosCurls.

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Editor in Chief

Kat Collings has over 15 years of experience in the editorial fashion space, largely in digital publishing. She currently leads the vision for editorial content at WhoWhatWear.com as the site's editor in chief, having risen through the editorial ranks after joining the company in 2012. Collings is a Digiday Future Leader Awards nominee, was named Buzzfeed's best fashion Instagram accounts of the year, and is a member of the CFDA Awards Fashion Guild. Prior to Who What Wear, Collings worked on styling projects for brands such as Vogue, Teen Vogue, Lucky, and Oliver Peoples. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in communications and calls Los Angeles home.